Is Understanding a Two-Way Street?

It’s often said that “understanding” is a two-way street. I certainly agree that if we all tried to understand one another, the world would be a better place. Since we all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and personalities, increasing our level of understanding could put an end to much of the strife and arguing we see on a daily basis.

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However, what I’ve come to find is that this assertion ends up being the demise of many relationships. How many times have you heard the following?

“He doesn’t understand me.”

“No one understands me.”

“They just don’t understand.”

Understanding is a two-way street in a perfect world, but our world is far from perfect.

Oftentimes we expect others to make the first move in order for us to, in turn, make any effort at all.

“If she would have been nice to me, I would have been nice to her.”

“If he listens to me, then I’ll listen to him.”

“If they treat me right, then I’ll treat them right.”

And so when one party doesn’t live up to a standard or expectation, the whole thing falls apart. This mentality isn’t biblical at all. And it’s not helping bring peace to our society, which is often plagued by racial, social, and political tension.

Believers are called to a higher standard.

It’s up to you and it’s up to me, individually, to step out in love, compassion, kindness, and understanding—regardless of what the other person or group does.

Romans 12:18 says, “…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

And of course there is the famous Golden Rule, which should guide our heart and all our actions:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12).

I have found that a few amazing things happen when I really try to understand someone else’s point of view by asking questions and listening:

1.) When a person senses my motives are genuine, it makes them feel good to be heard and know someone is trying to understand. Their guard comes down a bit.

2.) They share and are able to be honest about their feelings, experiences, and opinions with me.

3.) Suddenly, I begin to change. My preconceived notions become challenged. Where I was previously oblivious or ignorant, a light comes on. I begin to understand their point of view. I may not always agree but am usually at least able to understand where he or she is coming from. Now we have common ground. And common ground is where love and compassion can be cultivated.

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This does not happen in every single situation or conversation I find myself in. Sometimes, it seems a person has no interest in understanding where I’m coming. Or I explain my thoughts and ideas to the best of my ability and still get misunderstood. And that’s okay.

I realized recently that no one understood, Jesus.

He said strange things, and He behaved in ways that were contrary to cultural and religious norms. His own disciples didn’t understand Him half the time and often asked Him to explain Himself.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34).

But Jesus didn’t ask to be understood first. He was doing the Father’s will. He crossed the bridge over to us—despite our lack of understanding and despite our shortcomings. He kept on reaching out to others in love, compassion, grace, and truth. God became man so that He could understand our pain first hand. So that He could overcome sin and show us the way.

And guess what! No one returned the favor of understanding…to the degree that they rejected Him and hung Him on a cross.

He knew that of course. And He died anyway, because He loves us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Let us follow our Lord’s example by attempting to understand other’s points of view and their experiences. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is called compassion. It’s one of the highest forms of love. And it’s literally what Christ did when He became man to save us from ourselves.

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